Abbotsford’s B.C. Cancer Agency a world-wide leader

When it comes to brachytherapy treatment, Abbotsford Centre is of the highest standard, says local radiation oncologist.

A fascinating journey took Dr. Maha Almahmudi from her days growing up in Libya, North Africa, to a career in radiation oncology at the BC Cancer Agency Abbotsford Centre. Dr. Almahmudi shares her exciting research and explains how the Abbotsford Centre is a world-wide leader when it comes to brachytherapy treatment and provides the highest standard of care to patients in the Fraser Valley region.

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to a career in oncology?

I grew up in Libya in the 1980s during the dictatorship of the Colonel Gaddafi. There was no freedom and the country was isolated from the rest of the world. Education was perceived as extremely important. I was fascinated with space science and after high school I envisioned myself becoming an engineer. I never wanted to go to medical school – but I am now grateful my mother chose it for me! Canadian universities are among the best internationally and have a strong reputation for high quality; needless to say peace, stability and multiculturalism also attracted me to this country. I was recruited to the BC Cancer Agency in 2011 and joined the radiation oncology team at the Abbotsford Centre one year later.

Can you tell us about the brachytherapy program at the BC Cancer Agency Abbotsford Centre?

Brachytherapy is a treatment where a radioactive source is placed directly into a tumor or close to where the tumor is located. As a result, the cancer will receive high radiation dose where normal tissue can be spared. At the Abbotsford Centre, we offer brachytherapy for a variety of cancers including gynecologic, prostate, lung, esophageal and skin malignancies. We have a comprehensive brachytherapy program that offers treatment to all patients in the Fraser Valley region who need it.

At our centre, brachytherapy is available in its two main forms: low dose rate (LDR), where radioactive seeds are placed permanently in the tumor area (commonly used in prostate cancer treatment), or high dose rate (HDR) which involves the temporary placement of a powerful radiation source near or within the tumour. We have highly trained and experienced oncologists and staff delivering this form of treatment. As of 2014, we have completed over 300 brachytherapy procedures, with our numbers increasing each year.

What do you foresee in the near future for brachytherapy?

We have achieved great improvements at our centre in a short time, however, there is definitely more room for expansion. We want to be able to offer brachytherapy to more patients in need and to improve our waitlist. New treatments such as HDR prostate brachytherapy and breast brachytherapy that can replace multiple fractions of external radiation will be the reality in the near future with our research program.

How does philanthropy contribute to your research?

The Abbotsford Centre has received tremendous support from BC Cancer Foundation donors in the Abbotsford community. There is no doubt that donors play a major role in the advancement of research and enhancements to patient care. Donations have enabled the radiation therapy department to upgrade treatment units, which has revolutionized care for cancer patients.

Can you share any exciting research updates with us?

Clinical research is essential and is one of the most important ways we can improve how we treat and manage cancer. We are currently involved in a national clinical trial that examines the role of lung brachytherapy in combination with external beam radiotherapy in advanced lung cancer patients. If this study shows positive outcomes, this treatment will likely become standard in the subgroup of lung cancer patients. Lung cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canada and remains one of the most challenging cancers to treat and cure. For this reason, research of lung cancer and clinical trials remain essential to help advance treatments. I am certain that every day, we are moving a step closer to finding a cure.